Church disaffection and the parable of the urban park

There once were two men who lived near an urban park, Tom and Henry.

The two were friends who had met while walking their dogs in the park. As they walked they would talk about the joys of the park, which was filled with hidden glades, brooks and special areas away from the crowds. They were pleased with how the park was maintained. The grass was cut nicely in some areas and new flowers were regularly planted. In other areas, nature was allowed to flourish untouched by human hands. In short, the park was a marvel for them and they loved it.

Both Tom and Henry joined a “Friends of the Park” group in which they would volunteer once a month to help clean up the park, plant flowers, dispose of fallen trees limbs, etc. They would work for several hours on Saturdays with dozens of other friends. They both felt they were doing good and part of something useful. Parks administrators would of course help with such efforts, but the success or failure of the volunteer efforts depending mostly on the work of the volunteers.

One day Henry was walking through the park and he noticed that a rather large tree limb had fallen due to a recent storm. It was blocking one of the paths. He called the park administrators, but the director was on vacation and the message got lost. So the tree limb was left there for several weeks. Every time Henry walked by he got angrier and angrier. “Why aren’t these people doing their jobs?” he would fume.

He would mention the problem to Tom, and Tom would say “I’m sure they will get to it. Isn’t it a beautiful day?”

Henry was beginning to get a bit annoyed with Tom. What a Pollyanna he is, Henry thought. But Henry did not say anything.

The next day Henry noticed that a lot of people in the park were not cleaning up after their dogs. He mentioned this to Tom and he said that he actually thought more people were cleaning up after their dogs, not less. “Boy that guy is annoying,” Henry said to himself. “Doesn’t he see that this park is beginning to fall apart?”

The next day Tom and Henry got in a rather lengthy argument. Henry started to list all of the problems he saw with the park. In addition to the tree limbs and the dog poop, the grass was not being mowed enough and the flowers were being planted poorly. Tom said that he was actually thinking that the park was cleaner and better managed than ever, with more people than ever enjoying the park. In fact, Tom showed Henry an article from a local newspaper saying that park attendance was up. Significantly. Henry said the figures on park attendance were invented by the park administrators.

At the next “Friends of the Park” meeting, Henry spent the entire time bringing up his complaints. The administrators listened patiently but after more than an hour of Henry dominating the meeting, the director said, “we have to move on. Henry, we have taken down your complaints and are working on them.” But Henry loudly complained that it took forever for the administrators to fix things, and sometimes they never get around to his concerns, and the administrators were rude and frankly abusive to him. The director told Henry to mention a specific time when people had been rude to him, but Henry couldn’t remember the specifics.

Tom and Henry saw each other a few days later, and Tom was preparing himself for the usual anti-park harangue as Henry walked toward him on the street. Henry immediately launched into his litany of complaints. After 15 minutes of this, with Tom nodding politely, Tom asked Henry, “have you been to the hidden glades we used to go to all the time? Aren’t they beautiful this year?” But Henry said that the whole park experience was ruined for him every time he even walked near the park. It was a dirty, shabby place now.

“So, you have not even been to the hidden glades or seen the new flower beds, but you are convinced that the whole park is a mess?” Tom asked.

“Yes,” Henry said. “In fact, I am taking a bus to another park now. I can’t even stand that park anymore.”

Tom was thoughtful. “Henry, I just want to tell you that I feel for you, but I have to state that I disagree with you. The park is prettier and better managed than ever. More people than ever are going there. You can certainly go to another park, but I want to tell you that I still love that park and love going there. But to each his own. If you like that other park, then that would be a good solution for you.”

Henry than said: “How can you be so hurtful? How can you discount my feelings so much? Can’t you see I have been traumatized by this whole experience, with the abusive park administrators and the complete disaster that this park has become? You are really a jerk!”

And with that, Henry and Tom stopped being friends. Tom kept on going to the park he loved. He met his future wife there, and they had several kids, and they all enjoyed the park the rest of their lives. Henry would avoid Tom every time he saw him in the street, so Tom really didn’t know what happened to Henry after that. But Henry always looked angry when he saw him. Tom felt sorry for him because that park, the park that used to be their park, truly was beautiful, and Henry didn’t even know it.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

21 thoughts on “Church disaffection and the parable of the urban park

  1. One time Tom was thinking about Henry and he came up with a parable to explain their history. He called it “the parable of the church.” “One day two guys named Tim and Harry met in their Mormon ward . . .”

  2. There is some truth to this parable, but I think it misses a couple of particular details. First, for most of us, there is little to no way to get access to the park administrators, at least the ones who are not local. Second, this doesn’t include that often when one lodges any sort of complaint, that person is immediately told that there is no problem, you should never ever question that there is a problem, and that to insinuate that there is any problem makes you unworthy to be part of the association.

    However, once you go through that process, it does become difficult to see the better side of things.

  3. Jacob M, I am not really understanding what your issue is. If your issue is “the Church does a poor job of cleaning my chapel,” the of course you can access as many administrators as you could possibly ever want to talk to. If your issue is, “why doesn’t the Church give priesthood to women,” (just to use one recent example), you can access dozens of talks explaining the issue, you can call Church public affairs to discuss with public affairs people and you can talk to local administrators until the cows come home. If you think that apostles and prophets, who are extremely busy and oversee a church with 15 million people, should make special time for you, I would tell you that 1)it sometimes does happen and John Dehlin, to cite one dissident example, meets with GAs all the time and 2)you need to be a bit more empathetic and consider the fact that your personal issues are not necessarily the most important thing in the world, compared to, say, planning a new temple. And if you think you belong to a church where “you should never ever question,” then you obviously are not really paying much attention because I can tell you as a former member of a bishopric people question things all the time and are listened to and not considered unworthy just because they ask questions.

    Now, you may be thinking in your mind that your local bishop or quorum leader did not give you enough time or blew you off or was rude, etc, etc. And it is very possible that this is true. People are imperfect, and this includes us Mormons. The question is: where do you choose to concentrate your energies? In my parable, Tom and Henry are looking at exactly the same park, yet Tom sees beauty and Henry sees dog poop. If you try to concentrate on different things, perhaps your experience will be different and less negative. Just one person’s advice.

  4. I have recently come across a great little poem called, “What Is Your Adversity Reaction?” by a fantastic man named Peter Czerny:

    “Getting bitter, or getting better? It’s the difference of one letter. If you’re bitter notice why, it’s that selfish little ‘I'”.

    What I see among family and friends who have left the church or who have chosen to actively participate in dissent, is bitterness. They have let bitterness overtake them and their perception of how things really are, instead of turning to the Lord for solace and solutions. The world and those who dissent might provide a sense of respite from our problems, but in the end what they provide is a false healing. The only true healing in this life is provided by the Savior and in following the commandments.

  5. As far as accessing those in high places, I personally access God. Last I heard, He was pretty high up on the chain of command.

    Alas, rather than hopping to my command, He is often full of great ideas for tasks I can take on at His behest. So I suppose in the great hope of changing the Church to fit man, God isn’t the best advocate.

  6. That was a pretty accurate parable Geoff.

    You might add that this is the only true and living park, and that the caretakers are called directly by God, and are the only ones authorized to manage the park.

    Neither Tom nor Henry are seeing things as they really are. Tom, before he even sets foot in the park, believes it to be the only true and living park, and sees the caretakers as practically infallible, because they are prophets of God after all. So no matter what the park looks like, he is going to see it as beautiful before he even opens his eyes. It’s like the folks I heard about at the unveiling of a new perfume, who were told with great fanfare all incredible aromatic notes that they would experience when they uncorked their sample. They uncork the sample, and start expounding on how amazing it is, when sheepishly the host announces he gave out the wrong samples, and those were just water. Their brain honestly did experience those wonderful scents. That is the power of their faith in the placebo.

    Henry struggles with his faith in the park as “the only true and living park,” and he craves more evidence of it’s superiority, that it really is the “only true” park. But because there still is some poop and unmowed grass, he becomes frustrated with his testimony, unable to reconcile the “only true” park with one that has poop in it. He also becomes frustrated because everyone else like Tom refuses to acknowledge the poop. They don’t even see it, because they are so enamored with how perfect they are told it is.

    What Henry needs is someone to explain how a park can be “the only true park” and still have poop in it. Tom can’t do this because he lives in a fantasy. The caretakers can’t do it, because they are afraid if they acknowledge the poop, people like Tom will start to notice the poop and become concerned.

    So Henry comes to the bloggernacle, where he meets other people discussing the poop, some who are are obsessed with it, and some who say it’s not such a big deal. Hopefully Henry finds friends here who make him feel more comfortable with the paradox between the imperfections of the park which is also the “only true and living park.”

  7. Nate,

    I might suggest that the “only true and living” part of the park might be more accurately cast as the only park belonging to and administered by a certain wealthy man. Henry may struggle to believe that this man would actually own this imperfect property, after all, this is a man widely known for his strict standards and high expectations. He may struggle to believe that these administrators could actually be running the park the way the wealthy man would want. Henry may prefer the city-owned parks. These belong to the people jointly and the people are granted a say in governing these parks. He may prefer some of the other privately owned parks. Regardless of whether these alternatives work better for him, he cannot truthfully say that he belongs to the park of the wealthy man. And when that wealthy man hosts a feast for the volunteers and faithful patrons of the park, Henry cannot claim a right to attend.

  8. I’m offended that you would say such things about Henry B. Eyring. If you don’t like Henry, why are you still in the Church?

  9. Funny to focus on poop as though it would be an imperfection in the park.

    Now a good series of log-like turds would be less than picturesque, but fecal matter, writ large, is fundamentally necessary for the health of a thriving park/garden. Without fecal matter, the soil becomes lifeless and sterile, the plants lose their vigor, and all is less vibrant.

    When it comes to log-like turds, the log turds emit from dogs (and sometimes from humans). And as both dogs and humans who defecate in parks are usually cared for by responsible humans, there really isn’t a reason for the log turds to remain in the park.

    I don’t think it is so much the unacknowledged turds that cause Henry mental distress: it is the park police who point out to the ostensibly responsible for the turds that they have a responsibility to clean up after themselves, or pay a fine.

    How, Henry asks, could such a perfect park require me to scoop my dog’s poop? Surely scooping poop should be the responsibility of some other underling, that I may enjoy the park without any unpleasant moments.

    Alternately, Henry, an inveterate poop scooper for his own pup, finds indications of unscooped poop (turds or fecal matter of a less coherent mein) and becomes fundamentally disturbed that there exist in this park individuals of such an irresponsible nature.

    Meanwhile, Skippy, Henry’s pup, merely wants to eat it all up.

    Yum. Yum.

  10. It is also possible that Henry violated some of the basic park rules such as cleaning up after Skippy or worse and began to indulge in self justification. That’s a sure fire way to begin to hate the park.

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